Tag Archives: Mastery

Genius: The Natural History of Creativity by Hans Eysenck

Summary

  1. Defining genius in a psychological manner. Genius, defined as supreme creative achievement, socially recognized over the centuries, is the product of many different components acting synergistically, i.e., multiplying with each other, rather than simply adding one to the other. Among the components are high intelligence, persistence, and creativity, regarded as a trait. Trait creativity may or may not issue in creative achievement, depending on the presence of the many other qualifications and situational conditions. Prominent among these additional qualifications are certain personality traits, such as ego-strength (the inner strength to function autonomously), to resist popular pressure, and to persist in endeavor in spite of negative reinforcement…Chief among these cognitive features is a tendency to overinclusiveness, an inclination not to limit one’s associations to relevant ideas, memories, images

Key Takeaways

  1. Genius and Psychoticism
    1. Genius is linked to but not full psychosis. Psychoticism may hold key to better understanding of genius
    2. Psychosis not correlated to genius as commonly thought; high pathology short of psychosis is helpful, as is ego-strength (emotional stability)
    3. Schizophrenics have ‘over inclusive’ thinking – filter mechanism breaks down and everything is important and related all at once. This looseness of thinking also found in the most creative, but doesn’t become psychosis
  2. Talent vs. Genius
    1. Talent works, genius creates – argues talent and genius lie on a continuum, not discrete
    2. Talent clusters in families, genius does not
      1. Necessary characteristics needed too are unlikely to cluster
      2. Despite Galton’s hypothesis of ’eminence’ being normally distributed, the evidence from creativity as achievement shows it to be very abnormally distributed
  3. Intelligence vs. Genius
    1. The distinction between a dispositional variable and what we might call an achievement variable (school success, production of a work of genius) is absolutely vital in understanding psychological analyses of abilities and traits. The distinction currently made between trait and state, say of anxiety, embodies the distinction. The dispositional hypothesis states that some people are more likely than others to react with anxiety to situations perceived as dangerous, and to perceive as dangerous situations which to others may not appear to be so. But a state of anxiety may be induced even in non-anxious persons by presenting them with a very real danger, while even those high on trait anxiety may be quire relaxed up on occasion when no trace danger looms
  4. IQ
    1. IQ tests very predictive of success, seems to be about 70% biological
    2. High IQ does not equate to genius, necessary but not sufficient (ambitious, chunking, training, perseverance)
    3. Achievement tends to be higher in nearly every category, contra to the common perception of the idiot savant
    4. Personality correlates with higher achievement as well
    5. We may incorporate Galton’s view as follows: Capacity (intelligence, special abilities) x Zeal (persistence, hard work) x Striving (motivation, fighting spirit) –> Reputation –> Genius
    6. Cognitive variables (intelligence, knowledge, technical skills, special talent) x environmental variables (political-religious, cultural, socioeconomic, education) x personality variables (internal motivation, confidence, non-conformity) –> Creative Achievement
  5. Creativity
    1. Often, the most creative act is the selection of the problem. Such a selection takes into account the importance of the problem, how much is known about it, previous attempts, possible remote sources of information not previously considered, probability that the problem is soluble at the present time, and many more
      1. Poincare – Invention is discernment, choice
    2. All cognitive endeavors require new associations to be made, or old ones to be reviewed. There are marked differences between individuals in the speed with which associations are formed. Speed in the formation of associations is the foundation of individual differences in intelligence. Only a sub-sample of associations is relevant in a given problem. Individuals differ in the range of associations considered in problem-solving. Wideness of range is the foundation of individual differences in creativity. Wideness of range is in principle independent of speed of forming associations suggesting that intelligence and creativity are essentially independent. However, speed of forming associations leads to faster learning, and hence greater number of elements with which to form associations. The range of associations considered for problem-solving is so wide that a critical evaluation is needed to eliminate unsuitable associations. Genuine creativity requires a) a large pool of elements to form associations, b) speed in producing associations, and c) a well-functioning comparator to eliminate false solutions.
    3. Mark Kac on Ramanujan: An ordinary genius is a fellow that you and I would be just as good as, if we were only many times better. There is no mystery as to how his mind works. Once we understand what he has done, we feel certain that we, too, could have done it. It is different with magicians. They are, to use mathematical jargon, in the orthogonal complement of where we are and the working of their minds is for all intents and purposes incomprehensible. Even after we understand what they have done, the process by which they have done it is completely dark.
    4. Key factors for creativity – resourceful, insightful, individualistic, reflective, intelligent, interests (wide), humorous, clever, inventive, self-confident, original, interests (narrow), confident, egotistical, unconventional
    5. Novelty emerges from an individual mind, when it is judged by a committee, orthodoxy will usually prevail
    6. Difficulty in scaling innovation – government entities try to by research and innovation the way they buy potatoes (committee, forms, etc..) and then a top-down approach where they give preference to areas that the government indicates are useful
    7. Fluency – Flexibility – Creativity
      1. Fluency – total number of responses
      2. Flexibility – various categories of response
      3. Originality – unusual, clever, or original responses
      4. Elaboration – how elaborate the response is, in terms of multiple details given
        1. Want originality (unique) + Fluency (number of ideas)
    8. High, but not the highest intelligence, combined with the greatest degree of persistence, will achieve greater eminence than the highest degree of intelligence with somewhat less persistence
    9. Training creativity does little – genetic and synergistic multiplier of right traits
  6. Personality
    1. Independence in attitude and social behavior, dominance, introversion, openness to stimuli, wide interests, self-acceptance, intuitiveness, flexibility, social presence and praise, an asocial attitude, concern for social norms, radicalism, rejection of external constraints
    2. The single trait that rates highest among geniuses is the desire to excel
    3. Some common traits – Middle/upper-middle class, Jewish or Protestant, educated, loss of one or both parents before 15
    4. 20-40 are the peak ages, slow decline after that
    5. It is possible that an excess of dopamine creates work-addicted geniuses that get positive reinforcement through their labors
  7. Intuition
    1. Simonton says that by ‘intuitive’ he means behavioral adaptations to the environment which are unconscious, ineffable (impossible to verbalize), and essentially probabilistic in character
    2. General Intelligence + Associations
    3. Intuition for complex tasks, analysis for the simple
    4. Great genius, the most creative, have the hardest time fitting in – they do not abide by social norms, so typically just get ignored
  8. Other
    1. Major innovations tend to come from outside the given field
    2. Clusters of genius in time may be due to great teachers
    3. Sudden illumination is a manifest sign of long, unconscious prior work
      1. There is the preliminary labor, the incubation period, the sudden integration, owing its existence to inspiration rather than conscious logical thought, and finally the verification or proof, perfectly conscious

What I got out of it

  1. An incredibly fun and deep dive into genius. Love the multiplier analogy – Capacity (intelligence, special abilities) x Zeal (persistence, hard work) x Striving (motivation, fighting spirit) –> Reputation –> Genius

Learning to Learn and the Navigation of Moods by Gloria Flores

Summary

  1. Emotional engagement is essential to progressing up the ladder of skill acquisition. Handling negative emotions that come with failure is hard and this book sets out to provide a guide for how to cope in these tough times

Key Takeaways

  1. Moods & Learning to Learn
    1. Outline a taxonomy of moods to build a self-awareness and know how you are progressing, where you are, and how to overcome obstacles. This process helps develop the meta-skill of acquiring skills, the art of learning to learn
    2. Learning how to recognize moods, then shift to productive moods is the skill you ultimately want to develop
    3. We can begin developing the skill of learning to learn at a very young age by encouraging children to experiment, to take risks, and to make mistakes. School can play an important role in cultivating this ability
    4. A mood of defensiveness often shows up when we hear what we interpret as criticism
    5. In a world where uncertainty and rapid change are the norm, where we cannot control changes in technology, regulations, or the environment, but where we need to cope and navigate with these on an ongoing basis, learning to learn appears all the more as an essential skill we are called to cultivate 
    6. Learning to learn requires that we be in a mood that is conducive to learning. Often we are not. Moods are “attunements” to the situation we find ourselves in at any given moment which predispose us to certain actions. Moods are windows to our assessments and to the standards that support them. If we become sensitive to our moods, we may be able to open the curtains and observe how we see things, and discover whether our automatic predispositions help us achieve our learning objectives or block us. 
    7. Moods that get in the way of learning (pg 25) – confusion, resignation, frustration, arrogance, impatience, boredom, fear/anxiety, overwhelm, lack of confidence, distrust or skepticism 
    8. Moods that are conducive to learning (29) – wonder, perplexity, serenity/acceptance, patience, ambition, resolution, confidence, trust
      1. Learning to shift from unproductive to productive moods is a critical aspect of learning to learn. As we learn to become aware of our moods, and are able to observe ourselves in a negative mood that blocks us from achieving what we want to achieve, such as resignation, we can choose not to remain hostages to this mood, and take action to cultivate an alternative mood that is more conducive to achieving what we set out to achieve (reflect on your learning objectives and why that gives you energy)
    9. List of learning to learn resources on page 149
  2. Contrast in handling mistakes! Comparing healthcare vs. aviation and the difference that learning from your mistakes makes
    1. Every time an plane accident occurs, there is a deep dive into what happened. However, in healthcare, any sort of feedback loop seems lacking. Consequently, in contrast to the 400,000-500,000 premature deaths per year in healthcare, in 2013, 210 people died as a result of plane crashes
  3. Others’ expectations and what we ‘should’ know serve as roadblocks
    1. Common categories of assessment that get in the way of learning – important to be competent, efficient, independent, self-reliant, useful, prepared at all times
    2. Moods indicate which assessments we’re making
  4. Dreyfus Skill Acquisition model
    1. Beginner – advanced beginner – competent – proficient – expert – master
      1. A master reinvents the rules; generates new discourses and disciplines from anomalies in the domain. A master is willing to override the perspective that they intuitively experience and choose a new one for the sake of learning and contributing to their field. A master is willing to regress to earlier stages in the learning scale for the sake of taking risks and learning
      2. Masters deal with wonder, resolution, ambition and need to concern themselves with arrogance and resignation
  5. Education
    1. Education is not simply about the transfer of knowledge and the ability to apply concepts. When it comes to acquiring skills, particularly communication and relationship skills, education is about enabling others to take new actions that they weren’t able to take before. Second, as the Drefyus brothers argue, in order for someone to acquire new skills successfully, they must be emotionally engaged. A person must be involved
  6. The essential elements of an offer
    1. Speaker
    2. listener
    3. Conditions of fulfillment
    4. Background of obviousness
    5. Offer/Promise – action to be performed in the future by person making the offer/promise
    6. Specified time for fulfillment of the offer 
  7. Trust = combination of sincerity, competence, reliability, engagement/care
  8. Galilean Relativity
    1. Easterners perceive things holistically, viewing objects as they are related to each other or in a context, whereas Westerners perceive them analytically in isolation; Easterners use wide-angle lens; Westerners use a narrow one with a sharper focus. 

What I got out of it

  1. This book should be better known. The idea of matching not only time and energy, but also mood, seems like a superpower to learning effectively. This book helps you understand why and how to do this

The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses by Jesse Schell

Summary

  1. The author provides 113 lenses in which to “view” game design from. Can be thought of as various mental models, perspectives, and / or as a checklist to help guide you in your game design journey

Key Takeaways

  1. Game design = decision of what a game should be
  2. Listening is the most important skill. Must listen to your team, audience, game, client, self
  3. A game is something you play, a good toy is fun, fun = pleasure + surprise
    1. Games are entered willfully
    2. Games have goals
    3. Games have conflict
    4. Games have rules
    5. Games can be won and lost
    6. Game are interactive
    7. Games have challenge
    8. Games can create their own internal value
    9. Games engage players
    10. Games are closed, formal systems
  4. 4 Basic Elements of Game Design
    1. Mechanisms – rules, procedures
    2. Story – sequence of events
    3. Aesthetics
    4. Tech
  5. Community
    1. 4 primary elements that provide a sense of community – Membership, Influence, Integration and fulfillment needs, shared emotional connection
    2. Give people the means to talk and communicate
    3. Create community property 
    4. Let players express themselves (avatars, conversation, emojis, vanity items, etc.)
    5. Support three levels – the newbie, the player, the elder (teacher, give back, extra access, a more difficult game, governance, create and add to the platform…)
    6. Force players to depend on each other – obligation to others is powerful
    7. Community events 
  6. Survey
    1. What was the most frustrating moment or aspect of what you just did
    2. What was your favorite moment?
    3. Was there anything you wanted to do that you couldn’t?
    4. If you had a magic wand to wave, and you could change, add, or remove anything from the experience, what would it be?
    5. What were you doing in the experience?
    6. How would you describe this game to your friends and family?
  7. Learning
    1. Progressing from knowing to knowing how to showing to doing
    2. To create meaningful transformations, you must clearly state the change you want to take place and also the specifics of how and why your game will foster that change. Really, this is our old friend, Lens $14: Problem Statement. Of course, to create a successful transformational game, you must come up with a solid solution to how you enable the transformation, but you can’t possibly do that until you have clearly stated what transformation needs to take place. 
    3. Find Subject Matter Experts – they are usually thrilled to be able to take their expertise into a new dimension and eager to make sure you have every detail right. Starts with feeling, move to anecdotes, then SME approval, informal surveys/assessment, and lastly scientific testing and assessment
  8. Lenses – there are 113 lenses that I won’t write out completely, but some that hit home the most include:
    1. Lens of emotion, surprise, curiosity, problem solving, toy, pleasure, flow, motivation, novelty, challenge, skill vs. chance, competition, cooperation, reward, punishment, elegance, beauty, hero’s journey, story, expression, community, transformation, your secret purpose

What I got out of it

  1. Some really helpful tips and ideas in which to think about game design. Fun book to read and the author really made the process come to life

The Mutt: How to Skateboard and Not Kill Yourself by Rodney Mullen

Summary

  1. Rodney Mullen is the godfather of freestyle skating. He won his first world championship at 14 and over the over the following decade,  won 35 out of 36 freestyle contests, thus establishing the most successful competitive run in the history of the sport.

Key Takeaways

  1. Father volatile, dominating, forever wanted him to stop skating to focus on “real person, adult things”
    1. Had a big confrontation and Rodney finally learned that the calmer he got when his dad got mad, the more flustered he got. This further strengthened him and weakened his father
  2. Became obsessed right away with skating, practicing every spare minute he had. His parents always gave him many chores, though – “heavy doses of freedom anchored by responsibility”
    1. This is why I have a hard time calling skating a sport – it lacks a defining structure, and it’s constantly changing and evolving. It’s so fulfilling, and it pushed me so hard to be creative that it felt more like an art to me. I’ll read biographies that describe how different artists and composers would stay up through the night working, a feverish energy burning inside pushing them forward – and that was exactly how skating affected me from the start
    2. Being “centered” helps with every aspect of a trick
      1. Not only center of gravity, but centered in life
  3. Always very smart and loved deconstructing things to their very core
    1. I can recall vividly my mom showing me my first electromagnet. I was five at the time, and the experience blew my mind. Suddenly, so many things around me could be broken down and understood (or at least understood in my mind). by teaching me this one concept, my mother had transformed the world into a puzzle waiting to be solved. Switch on a light, and I’d try to figure out how the electricity ran through the wires, how the positive and negative charges worked together to light a bulb. One discovery led to another. I realized that every single thin around me could be broken down into a series of comprehensible steps, and I wanted to learn them all.
    2. Always loved physics and math but was so shy he had trouble meeting people’s eyes…“I often listen to physics lectures in my car while I drive and always have at least one book on quantum theory in my car in case I get stuck somewhere”
    3. Spent hours at night hiding under his cover with his miniboard to study, think, dream about tricks. “I’d flip my board a certain way and try to duplicate the movements over and over, memorizing a pattern for later, when I could try it on my real board.
    4. “At times like that, I try to shut down every distraction around me and zero in on whatever I’m focusing on. You could have yelled in my ear and I wouldn’t have heard you. Oddly, I wasn’t most impressed by the tricks the pros were doing, but by how comfortable they were on their boards. You could tell they were in a different league just watching them cruising around doing nothing. They had skating so wired that they didn’t appear to relate to their boards as separate objects. There was a unity of board and skater.
    5. I began keeping a skating notebook. I jotted down ideas for tricks and noted observations I’d made on how my board flipped, how different foot placements affected tricks, or how long it took me to fix problems and derive variations off new ideas. Then I’d rate the entire session, giving myself a grade as though it was a school report card
    6. Would time every one of his workouts – stopping his watch whenever he got a drink, went to the bathroom. 
    7. I appreciated his compliments, but I never thought of myself as being in a competition against him or really anyone else, stupid as that sounds. The sense of loss I felt was because I had failed to do what I set out to do. There was only one person to blame
  4. Tony Hawk
    1. He was an extremely smart guy, and you could see that skating was an extension of his intelligence just by watching the way he learned a trick…Even before I knew he had a 144 IQ (I read this in his book, he never told me) I could tell he was different from the average talented skater…He’d think of tricks while he was going to sleep and make a list of ones that he had to figure out how to land.
  5. Other
    1. Had some serious control issues (stemming from his dad) which led to some eating disorders and extreme behavior. He tried to see how little he could eat and sleep yet keep up his insane practice regimen. He eventually passed out after getting down to as little as 3 hours of sleep per night
    2. His dad forbade him from skating a couple times and it eventually led to depression. But, as soon as he was allowed to skate again, his appetite returned and he could sleep through the night
    3. His wife, Traci – Traci never cracked on me for any of my eccentricities. I think she was actually amused by most of them. She never pressured me to include her in my skate world, and it often seemed like she was happy doing her own thing and letting me do mine and then meeting in the middle
    4. Eventually sold the company he co-founded with Steve Rocco, World Industries, and became a millionaire. His only splurge was books

What I got out of it

  1. Amazing to read about Rodney’s obsession and dedication to skating, especially when learning about how secluded he was from others and the situation with his dad. His ability and inclination to deconstruct problems down to their essence stood out, as did his obsession – coming to dream and think about skating in his every spare moment

The Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman

Summary

  1. Part fictional, part autobiographical book based on Millman’s life as he finds his way through romance, magic, light, dark, mind, body, spirit, etc. while working with his “coach” Socrates

Key Takeaways

  1. The best warriors have the quietest minds in times of truth (performance)
  2. Regardless if you get what you want or not you suffer as everything changes. The mind wants to be free of sin, free of change but change is law. 
  3. Life is not suffering. We make it suffer until we learn to let go and love whatever happens (Amor fati)
  4. Brain and mind are not the same. Brain is real. The mind isn’t. The mind is an illusory outgrowth, an obstacle to be overcome 
  5. Learn from your life experiences instead of complaining or basking in them
  6. Your moods are a direct outcome of your thoughts – not the events themselves
  7. When the mind resists life, thoughts arrive. Thoughts are an unconscious reaction to life 
  8. Silence is the warrior’s art
  9. Aim to be perfectly content and happy regardless of what is going on around you 
  10. Anger is more powerful than fear or sorrow. It can generate action where fear and sorrow turn you away from action 
  11. True emotion is pure energy which should be directed outward and not withheld. The way to control your emotions is to let them flow and then let them go 
  12. Must enjoy the entire process of eating – preparation, chewing, breathing, and the feeling of lightness after the meal 
  13. What comes out of your mouth is as important as what goes into it – speak less and when you do speak, speak deliberately and purposefully 
  14. Never give in to unconscious impulses 
  15. When you sit, sit. When you stand, stand. No matter what you do, don’t wobble. Do it with all your might and focus. Better to make mistakes with the full force of your being than doing something mediocre while being unsure 
  16. Urges do not matter, actions do
  17. Death is simply a transformation. The warrior neither seeks it nor runs away from it
  18. There are no ordinary moments – every moment is worthy of your full attention
  19. Satori – thoughtless awareness (what to aim for and often can access it through sports, meditation, etc.) 
  20. The mind becomes bored with things because we only know them as a name. Babies simply experience life before they become “namers” and “knowers”
  21. Boredom is a result of fundamental unawareness
  22. Happiness = satisfaction over desires. If you have enough to cover your desires you are rich. Can either have a lot of money and desires or cultivate a simple lifestyle. Happiness comes from the capacity of enjoying less instead of seeking more 
  23. The only time is now and the only place is where you currently are 
  24. Do not let anybody or anything, especially your thoughts, draw you out of the present 
  25. It doesn’t matter what you do but you must do it well
  26. Your goal is not invulnerability but complete and transparent vulnerability 
  27. A warrior is not something you become. It is something you either are or are not in the present moment. The way itself creates the warrior 
  28. Act happy. Be happy without a reason in the world. Then you can truly love and live
  29. All searches, all goals are equally enjoyable and equally unnecessary
  30. No need to resist life. Just do your best and enjoy the present. You and the world and everyone in it is one

What I got out of it

  1. Awesome read that I’d definitely read again. Learned about happiness, goals, what you really want to get out of life, priorities, etc.

How Life Imitates Chess by Gary Kasparov

Summary

  1. World chess grand master Gary Kasparov discusses his entrance, rise, and dominance of the chess world

Key Takeaways

  1. What makes chess such an ideal laboratory for the decision-making process? To play chess on a truly high level requires a constant stream of exact, informed decisions, made in real time and under pressure from your opponent. What’s more, it requires a synthesis of some very different virtues, all of which are necessary to good decisions: calculation, creativity, and a desire for results. If you ask a Grandmaster, an artist, and a computer scientist what makes a good chess player, you’ll get a glimpse of these different strengths in action.
  2. Having spent a lifetime analyzing the game of chess and comparing the capacity of computers to the capacity of the human brain, I’ve often wondered, where does our success come from? The answer is synthesis, the ability to combine creativity and calculation, art and science, into a whole that is much greater than the sum of its parts. Chess is a unique cognitive nexus, a place where art and science come together in the human mind and are then refined and improved by experience.
  3. We can explore our own boundaries and the boundaries of our own lives. But before we go exploring, we’ll need a map. Having a personalized map of your decision-making process is essential, and this book can only roughly chart the stages of observation and analysis that go into drawing that map. The map tells you which areas of your mind are well-known to you and which are still uncharted. It reveals your strengths, weaknesses, and areas as yet untested. Most important, you must look to develop your own map. There is no advantage in trying to identify the common denominator that links you to your friends or colleagues or opponents. We must all look higher and dig deeper, move beyond the basic and universal.
  4. We cannot pick and choose which style we would prefer for ourselves. Personal style is not generic software you can download and install. You must instead recognize what works best for you and then, through challenge and trial, develop your own method—your own map. To begin, ask yourself, What am I lacking? What are my strengths? What type of challenges do I tend to avoid and why? The method you employ to achieve success is a secret because it can be discovered only by you analyzing your own decisions. This is what my questioners should really have been asking me about instead of my trivial habits: How did I push myself? What questions did I ask myself? How did I investigate and understand my strengths and weaknesses? And how did I use what I learned to get better and further define and hone my method?
  5. Better Decision-Making Cannot Be Taught, but It Can Be Self-Taught. Let me explain. You must become conscious of your decision-making processes, and with practice they will improve your intuitive—unconscious— performance. Developing your personal blueprint allows you to make better decisions, to have the confidence to trust your instincts, and to know that no matter the result, you will come out stronger. There, inside each of us, is our unique secret of success. It’s not enough to be talented. It’s not enough to work hard and to study late into the night. You must also become intimately aware of the methods you use to reach your decisions.
  6. Whereas strategy is abstract and based on long-term goals, tactics are concrete and based on finding the best move right now. Tactics are conditional and opportunistic, all about threat and defense. No matter what pursuit you’re engaged in—chess, business, the military, managing a sports team—it takes both good tactics and wise strategy to be successful. As Sun Tzu wrote centuries ago, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
  7. The lesson here is that if you play without long-term goals your decisions will become purely reactive and you’ll be playing your opponent’s game, not your own. As you jump from one new thing to the next, you will be pulled off course, caught up in what’s right in front of you instead of what you need to achieve.
  8. The strategist starts with a goal in the distant future and works backward to the present. A Grandmaster makes the best moves because they are based on what he wants the board to look like ten or twenty moves in the future. This doesn’t require the calculation of countless twenty-move variations. He evaluates where his fortunes lie in the position and establishes objectives. Then he works out the step-by-step moves to accomplish those aims.
  9. “The strategist’s method is to challenge the prevailing assumptions with a single question: Why?” “Why?” is the question that separates visionaries from functionaries, great strategists from mere tacticians. You must ask this question constantly if you are to understand and develop and follow your strategy. 
  10. Experience allows us to instantly apply the patterns we have successfully used in the past. Tactics involve calculations that can tax the human brain, but when you boil them down, they are actually the simplest part of chess and are almost trivial compared to strategy. Think of tactics as forced, planned responses, basically a series of “if—then” statements that would make a computer programmer feel right at home.
  11. Every time you make a move, you must consider your opponent’s response, your answer to that response, and so on. A tactic ignites an explosive chain reaction
  12. And yet they never believed the airplane would amount to much beyond novelty and sport. The American scientific community shared that view, and soon the USA fell way behind in the aircraft business. The Wright brothers failed to envision the potential of their creation, and it was left to others to exploit the power of flight for commercial and military purposes.
  13. A key to developing successful strategies is to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses, to know what you do well. Two strong chess players can have very different strategies in the same position and they might be equally effective—leaving aside those positions in which a single forced winning line is available. Each player has his own style, his own way of solving problems and making decisions.
  14. So before I played Petrosian again, less than a year after the defeats described above, I spoke with Spassky, who was playing in the same tournament in Yugoslavia. He counseled me that the key was to apply pressure, but just a little, steadily. “Squeeze his balls,” he told me in an unforgettable turn of phrase. “But just squeeze one, not both!”
  15. You must always be aware of your limitations and also of your best qualities. This knowledge allows you to both play your own game and adapt when it is required.
  16. Instead of continuing to be frustrated in my attempts to change the character of the games, I decided my best chance was to go with the flow. Instead of making sharp moves that I thought were more in my style, I played the best solid moves available even if they led to quiet positions. Freed from the psychological difficulty of trying to force the issue in each game, I could just play chess.
  17. Change can be essential, but it should only be made with careful consideration and just cause. Losing can persuade you to change what doesn’t need to be changed, and winning can convince you everything is fine even if you are on the brink of disaster. If you are quick to blame faulty strategy and change it all the time, you don’t really have any strategy at all. Only when the environment shifts radically should you consider a change in fundamentals. We all must walk a fine line between flexibility and consistency. Avoid change for the sake of change.
  18. The problem, as many of these players discovered, is that most of their “original” concepts were rare for good reason. The virtue of innovation only rarely compensates for the vice of inadequacy.
  19. Finally we come to the hardest part of developing and employing strategic thinking: the confidence to use it and the ability to stick to it consistently. Once you have your strategy down on paper, the real work begins. How do you stay on track, and how do you know when you have slipped away from thinking strategically? We stay on track with rigorous questioning of our results, both good and bad, and our ongoing decisions. During a game I question my moves, and after the game I question how accurate my evaluations were in the heat of battle. Were my decisions good ones? Was my strategy sound? If I won, was it due to luck or skill? When this system fails, or fails to operate quickly enough, disaster can strike.
  20. In 2000 I met a former pupil of mine, Vladimir Kramnik, in a sixteen-game match for the world chess championship, my sixth title defense. I had won the title back in 1985, and headed into this match, I had been playing some of the best chess of my life. In other words, I was ripe for defeat. Years of success had made it difficult for me to imagine I could lose. Going into that match, I had won seven consecutive grand slam tournaments in a row and I wasn’t aware of my own weaknesses. I felt I was in great form and unbeatable. After all, hadn’t I beaten everyone else? With each success the ability to change is reduced. My longtime friend and coach, Grandmaster Yuri Dokhoian, aptly compared it to being dipped in bronze. Each victory added another coat.
  21. Questioning yourself must become a habit, one strong enough to surmount the obstacles of overconfidence and dejection. It is a muscle that can be developed only with constant practice.
  22. Tactics is knowing what to do when there is something to do; strategy is knowing what to do when there is nothing to do. —SAVIELLY TARTAKOWER
  23. What exactly do you do when there is nothing to do? We call these phases “positional play” because our goal is to improve our position. You must avoid creating weaknesses, find small ways to improve your pieces, and think small—but never stop thinking. One tends to get lazy in quiet positions, which is why positional masters such as Karpov and Petrosian were so deadly. They were always alert and were happy to go long stretches without any real action on the board if it meant gaining a tiny advantage, and then another. Eventually their opponents would find themselves without any good moves at all, as if they were standing on quicksand.
  24. In life there is no such obligation to move. If you can’t find a useful plan, you can watch television, stick with business as usual, and believe that no news is good news. Human beings are brilliantly creative at finding ways to pass time in unconstructive ways. At these times, a true strategist shines by finding the means to make progress, to strengthen his position and prepare for the inevitable conflict. And conflict, we cannot forget, is inevitable.
  25. I often refer to the need for effective development, something that is now taken for granted by any chess player beyond the rank of novice. But it took the first great American sports hero to demonstrate the importance of this fundamental concept to the world. His lesson, that you should have a solid and well-developed position before going on the attack, is applicable to every field of battle.
  26. Morphy’s secret, and it’s unlikely he was aware of it himself, was his understanding of positional play. Instead of flying directly into an attack, as was the rule in those days, Morphy first made sure everything was ready. He understood that a winning attack should only be launched from a strong position, and that a position with no weaknesses could not be overwhelmed. Unfortunately, he left no map behind, few writings that could explain his method. Morphy was so far ahead of his time that it took another quarter century for these principles of development and attack to be rediscovered and formulated.
  27. Trusting yourself means having faith in your strategy and in your instincts.
  28. Studies performed by Dutch psychologist Adriaan de Groot have shown that elite players don’t in fact look ahead that much further than considerably weaker players while solving chess problems. They can, on occasion, but it doesn’t define their superior play. A computer may look at millions of moves per second, but lacks a deep sense of why one move is better than another; this capacity for evaluation is where computers falter and humans excel. It doesn’t matter how far ahead you see if you don’t understand what you are looking at. We have seen that precise calculation is the first key to effective decision-making. The second is the ability to evaluate both static (permanent) and fluid factors. When I contemplate my move, I don’t start out by immediately running down the decision tree for every possible move. First I consider all of the elements in the position—such as material and king safety—so I can establish a strategy and develop intermediate objectives. Only when I have these goals in mind do I select the moves to analyze.
  29. In a complicated game this tree of analysis usually stays within a depth of four or five moves—that is, four or five moves for each player, or eight to ten total moves.
  30. The decision tree must constantly be pruned. Move from one variation to the next, discarding the less promising moves and following up the better ones. Don’t jump to another before you’ve reached a conclusion on the move you’re analyzing; you’ll waste precious time and risk confusing yourself. You must also have a sense of when to stop. Discipline yourself to keep calculating until you have determined a path that is clearly the best, or until further analysis won’t return enough value for the time spent.
  31. In some cases, the best move will be so obvious that it’s not necessary to work out all the details, especially if time is of the essence. This is rare, however, and it is often when we assume something is obvious and react hastily that we make a mistake. More often you should break routine by doing more analysis, not less. These are the moments when your instincts tell you that something is lurking below the surface, or that you’ve reached a critical juncture and a deeper look is required. To detect these key moments you must be sensitive to trends and patterns in your analysis. If one of the branches in your analysis starts to show surprising results, good or bad, it’s worth investing the time to find out what’s going on. Sometimes it’s hard to explain exactly what makes those bells go off in your head telling you there is more to be found. The important thing is to listen to them when they ring. One of my best games came about thanks to this sixth sense. I saw the final winning position, an incredible fifteen moves away. It was a feat of calculation, but there is no way your mind can go that far without help from your imagination.
  32. As an aside, although it turned out well for me, my missing the best move illustrates one of the perils of becoming fixated on a distant goal. I was so entranced by my vision of the gold at the end of this rainbow that I stopped looking around as I approached it. I’d convinced myself that such a pretty finish must be scientifically correct too—a potentially dangerous delusion.
  33. As for internal factors, it is clear to me that I would not have achieved such success at anything other than chess. The game came to me naturally, its requirements fitting my talents like a glove. My talents for memorization and calculation were blended with an aggressive streak for an ideal chess combination.
  34. The position doesn’t have to be an exact replica to produce this benefit. If you play the Najdorf Defense your entire career, you develop a feel for what moves to make and when in response to certain ideas and plans. We automatically find parallels and apply our knowledge of analogous positions. A Grandmaster will retain tens of thousands of fragments and patterns of chess data and adds to them constantly through frequent practice. My ability to recall so many games and positions doesn’t mean I have an easier time remembering names, dates, or anything else.
  35. De Groot illustrated this in an elegant fashion in his 1944 study of chess players. He tested players of every level, from former world champions to beginners, seeking to unlock the secrets of master chess. He gave the players a set of positions from games to memorize, then recorded how well they could reproduce them. Predictably, the stronger the player, the better he scored. The elite players scored ninety-three percent, the experts seventy-two percent, the average players just 51 percent. Thirty years later, in 1973, researchers Bill Chase and Herb Simon replicated de Groot’s experiment but added a key second set of test positions. For the second set they placed the pieces on the boards randomly, not following the rules of the game or any pattern at all. As in de Groot’s study, the stronger players scored better on the positions taken from actual games. But with the random positions, all levels of players scored approximately the same. Without being able to utilize patterns, or what psychologists call chunks, the masters didn’t display superior memory prowess. The same processes are at work in every human endeavor. Rote memorization is far less important than the ability to recognize meaningful patterns.
  36. Most people talk about unwinding after work or school, putting the day behind them so they can relax. How much more effective would they become if, at the end of each day, they asked themselves what lessons they had taken away for tomorrow?
  37. Fantasy isn’t something you can turn on with the flip of a switch. The key is to indulge it as often as you can to encourage the habit, to allow your unconventional side to flourish. Everyone develops his own device for prompting his muse. The goal is for it to become continuous and unconscious, so your fantasy is always active.
  38. Before I resigned myself to the seemingly inevitable queen move, I took a deep breath and surveyed the rest of the board. As with so many fantasy moves, this one started with a mental “Wouldn’t it be nice if . . .” If you daydream a little about what you’d like to see happen, sometimes you find that it is really possible.
  39. Too often we quickly discard apparently outlandish ideas and solutions, especially in areas where the known methods have been in place for a long time. The failure to think creatively is as much self-imposed as it is imposed by the parameters of our jobs and of our lives. “What if?” often leads to “Why not?” and at that point we must summon our courage and find out. 
  40. The more you experiment, the more successful your experiments will be. Break your routines, even to the point of changing ones you are happy with to see if you can find new and better methods.
  41. If critics and competitors can’t match your results, they will often denigrate the way you achieve them. Fast, intuitive types are called lazy. Dedicated burners of midnight oil are called obsessed. And while it’s obviously not a bad idea to hear and consider the opinions of others, you should be suspicious when these criticisms emerge right on the heels of a success.
  42. Few lives and few endeavors permit such devotion. But in truth it’s not the amount of time that really counts—it’s the quality of your study and how you use your time. Becoming a 24/7 fanatic who counts every minute and second isn’t going to make you a success. The keys to great preparation are self-awareness and consistency. Steady effort pays off, even if not always in an immediate, tangible way.
  43. There was an almost mystical correlation between work and achievement, with no direct tie between them. Perhaps I was benefiting from the chess equivalent of the placebo effect. Going into battle with what I believed were lethal weapons gave me confidence even though they went largely unused and wouldn’t in some cases have been effective.
  44. You can—and must—look for ways to experiment and to push the boundaries of your capacity in different areas.
  45. Now, though retired from professional chess, I stick with my routine as closely as possible. This means hours of sleep, mealtimes, hours of work on different projects, and staying conscious of how these things are balanced daily and weekly. I’ve adapted my new activities into the old chess program, preserving the patterns that have kept me comfortable and productive. Where there used to be chess, there is now politics. Where before I would analyze the games of my chess opponents, I now analyze the statements of my political opponents. My afternoon nap is still sacrosanct.
  46. This isn’t a cookbook, and I’m not offering a recipe for your success. Everyone must create his own successful combinations with the ingredients he has. There are guidelines for what works, but each person has to discover what works for him. This doesn’t happen by itself. Through practice and observation, you must take an active role in your own education.
  47. Evaluating a position goes well beyond looking for the best move. The move is only the result, the product of an equation that must first be imagined and developed. So, determine the relevant factors, measure them, and, most critically, determine the optimal balance among them. Before you can begin your search for the keys to a position, you have to perform this basic due diligence. We can categorize these factors into three groups: material, time, and quality.
  48. Botvinnik made it clear that the worst type of mistake was one produced due to a bad habit because it made you predictable.
  49. Our friends, colleagues, and family usually know much more about our bad habits than we do. Hearing about these psychological tics can be as surprising as being told by your spouse that you snore. Prejudices and preferences in your decisions are unlikely to be harmful as long as you are aware of them and actively work to iron them out. Awareness can mean the difference between a harmless habit and a bias that leads to a dangerous loss of objectivity.
  50. Put that bad piece, that underperforming asset, to good use or get rid of it and your overall position will improve.
  51. Successfully exploiting your advantages leads to greater advantages, eventually great enough to win a decisive amount of material. This is where the alchemy comes in, the transformation of one type of advantage into another. With accurate play we can turn material into time and back again, or invest both for a high return in quality.
  52. When measuring imbalances, you should consider the elements of your operation not just in relation to your rivals’, but also in relation to one another. In chess we talk about having harmony in our position. Are your pieces working together? Is your material developed in accordance with your strategic goals? The difficulty of achieving successful coordination increases with the number of assets.
  53. Physics also tells us that “ordered systems lose less energy than chaotic systems.” In chess terms, when our pieces work together, they can turn one advantage into another without losing quality. A position or a company or a military unit that is disorganized can be torn apart by attempting a transformation. Trying to achieve the objective can leave them so depleted that they are quickly wiped out. This happens most frequently— in chess and in life—when positions or circumstances are already tenuous.
  54. A player in a difficult position tends to make mistakes due to the psychological pressure that comes with knowing he’s in trouble. But another key dynamic is also at work: an inferior position is less able to withstand the loss of energy required by an attempt at change. This is why a company that is in financial trouble should never gamble on a risky venture.
  55. In competitive play, though, that theory rarely holds up. Long before a player becomes a master, he realizes that rote memorization, however prodigious, is useless without understanding. At some point, he’ll reach the end of his memory’s rope and be without a premade fix in a position he doesn’t really understand. Without knowing why all the moves were made, he’ll have little idea of how to continue when play inevitably advances beyond the moves he was able to store in his memory.
  56. All the study and preparation in the world can’t show you what it’s really going to be like in the wild. Observing typical plans in action, mistakes and accidents included, is vastly superior to ivory-tower planning.
  57. Intuition and instinct form the bedrock of our decision-making, especially the rapid-fire decisions that make up our daily lives.
  58. This mentality requires us to overcome the desire to release the tension. Many bad decisions come from wanting to just get the process over to escape the pressure of having to make the decision. This is the worst type of haste, an unforced error. Resist it! If there is no benefit to making the decision at the moment and no penalty in delaying it, use that time to improve your evaluation, to gather more information, and to examine other options. As Margaret Thatcher put it, “I’ve learned one thing in politics. You don’t make a decision until you have to.”
  59. Success Is the Enemy of Future Success
  60. Question the status quo at all times, especially when things are going well. When something goes wrong, you naturally want to do it better the next time, but you must train yourself to want to do it better even when things go right. Failing to do this leads to stagnation and eventual breakdown. For me, it led to a crushing defeat.
  61. It can feel a bit paradoxical to muster up the confidence that we are the best but still compete as if we were outsiders and underdogs. But that’s what it takes.
  62. Perhaps you should create your own “happiness index,” which can be as simple as a mental or actual list of things that motivate you and give you pleasure and satisfaction.
  63. Every person has to find the right balance between confidence and correction, but my rule of thumb is, lose as often as you can take it.
  64. I believe that winning requires a constant and strong psychology not just at the board but in every aspect of your life.
  65. I always knew something was wrong if I wasn’t on edge before a game. Nervous energy is the ammunition we take into any mental battle. If you don’t have enough of it, your concentration will fade. If you have a surplus, the results can be explosive.
  66. In the real world, the moment you believe you are entitled to something is exactly when you are ripe to lose it to someone who is fighting harder.
  67. Bronstein was the most creative player of his generation, and he seemed to have all the ingredients necessary to bring down the world champion. But having set his sights on reaching the final, he found it impossible to raise them to winning the match itself.
  68. Weak human + machine + superior process was greater than a strong computer and, remarkably, greater than a strong human + machine with an inferior process.
  69. A manager might say they built an effective team from a group of individuals with disparate skill sets. An army commander would recognize that a well-coordinated force will almost always triumph over a numerically superior enemy who lacks organization. A company with an efficient management structure, or assembly line, will often have better margins than a larger, less agile competitor. Process is critical, especially since its benefits multiply with each cycle.
  70. Engaging with the weakest points in our game and drilling down so we really understand them is the best and fastest way to improve. Working to become a universal player—someone who can defend as well as attack and is at home in any type of position—may not always have an obvious immediate benefit, especially if you are in a specialized field. But in my experience working toward a universal style creates a rising tide that lifts all boats. Gaining experience in one area improves our overall abilities in unexpected, often inexplicable ways.
  71. It sounds strange to say that being a better artist might make me a stronger chess player or that listening to classical music can make you a more effective manager. And yet this is exactly the sort of thing that Feynman had in mind when he said that being a drummer made him a better physicist. When we regularly challenge ourselves with something new—even something not obviously related to our immediate goals—we build cognitive and emotional “muscles” that make us more effective in every way. If we can overcome our fear of speaking in public, or of submitting a poem to a magazine, or learning a new language, confidence will flow into every area of our lives. Don’t get so caught up in “what I do” that you stop being a curious human being. Your greatest strength is the ability to absorb and synthesize patterns, methods, and information. Intentionally inhibiting that ability by focusing too narrowly is not only a crime, but one with few rewards.
  72. Agatha Christie said of intuition, “You can’t ignore it and you can’t explain it.” But we don’t need a pat explanation to recognize how important it is and investigate how we can develop ours to our maximum potential
  73. This is the essential element that cannot be measured by any analysis or device, and I believe it’s at the heart of success in all things: the power of intuition and the ability to harness and use it like a master.
  74. The biggest problem I see among people who want to excel in chess—and in business and in life in general—is not trusting these instincts enough. Too often they rely on having all the information, which then forces them to a conclusion. This effectively reduces them to the role of a microprocessor and guarantees that their intuition will remain dormant.
  75. The truest tests of skill and intuition come when everything looks quiet and we aren’t sure what to do, or if we should do anything at all.
  76. crisis really means a turning point, a critical moment when the stakes are high and the outcome uncertain. It also implies a point of no return. This signifies both danger and opportunity, so Kennedy’s speech was accurate where it mattered.
  77. Apart from its merit as an indicator of good or poor form, the ability to detect these crisis points is a gauge of overall strength in a chess player—and in a decision-maker. The greatest players are distinguished by their ability to recognize crucial factors that are both specific and general.
  78. Sometimes the hardest thing to do in a pressure situation is to allow the tension to persist. The temptation is to make a decision, any decision, even if it is an inferior choice.
  79. One of the constant themes of this book has been how essential it is to continually challenge ourselves. The only way to develop is to venture into the unknown, to take risks, and to learn new things. We must force ourselves out of our comfort zone and trust our ability to adapt and thrive.
  80. What we make of the future is defined by how well we understand and make use of our past. Our past creates a map not only of where we have come from, but of where we are going; on it are marked the things we have valued, and the places we have found success or failure.
  81. I thank Stanley Druckenmiller for his counsel as well as his steady support of chess education in the United States via the Kasparov Chess Foundation,

What I got out of it

  1. Beautiful book on strategy, tactics, mastery, learning. A multi-disciplinary thinker whose insights on chess can help in any endeavor

Rodney Mullen On Getting Up Again

Rodney Mullen is one of the all-time skateboarding legends – having pioneered and invented many of the moves and tricks which are ubiquitous today. In the talk below he talks about how to go with your gut and not overanalyze situations.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

Summary

  1. The story of Jonathan Seagull, the seagull who dared to be different and push the limits of flight, learning about himself, mastery, and perfection

Key Takeaways

  1. And then a hundred other lives until we begin to learn that there is such a thing as perfection, and another hundred again to get the idea that our purpose for living is to find that  for us now, o show it forth. The same rule holds for us now, of course: we choose our next world through what we learn in this one. Learn nothing, and the next world is the same as this one, a ll the same limitations and lead weights to overcome.
  2. No, Jonathan, there is no such place. Heaven is not a place, and it is not a time. Heaven is being perfect…Perfect speed my son, is being there
  3. You can go to any place and to any time that you wish to go, the Elder said. I’ve gone everywhere and everywhen I can think of. He looked across the sea. It’s strange. The gulls who scorn perfection for the sake of travel go nowhere, slowly. Those who put aside travel for the sake of perfection go anywhere, instantly. Remember, Jonathan, heaven isn’t a place or a time, because place and time are so very meaningless
  4. To fly as fast as thought, to anywhere that is, you must begin by knowing that you have already arrived. The trick, according to Chiang, was for Jonathan to stop seeing himself as trapped inside a limited body that had a forty-two-inch wingspan and performance that could be plotted on a chart. The trick was to know that his true nature lived, as perfect as an unwritten number, everywhere at once across space and time
  5. I wonder about that, Jon, said Sullivan, standing near. You have less fear of learning than any gull I’ve seen in ten thousand years. The Flock fell silent, and Jonathan fidgeted in embarrassment. We can start working with time if you wish, Chiang said, till you can fly the past and the future. And then you will be ready to begin the most difficult, the most powerful, and the most fun of all. You will be ready to begin to fly up and know the meaning of kindness and love.
  6. For in spite of his lonely past, Jonathan Seagull was born to be an instructor, and his own way of demonstrating love was to give something of the truth that he had seen to a gull who asked only a chance to see truth for himself.
  7. Each of us is in truth an idea of the Great Gull, an unlimited idea of freedom, Jonathan would say in the evenings on the beach, and precision flying is a step toward expressing our real nature. Everything that limits us we have to put aside…Break the chains of your thought, and you break the chains of your body too
  8. He spoke of very simple things – that it is right for a gull to fly, that freedom is the very nature of his being, that whatever stands against that freedom must be set aside, be it ritual or superstition or limitation in any form. Set aside, came a voice from the multitude, even if it be the Law of the Flock? The only true law is that which leads to freedom, Jonathan would said. There is no other.

What I got out of it

  1. Has been 15 years since the last time I read this book and it hit me even more this time. Go live, do, practice, aim for perfection, freedom, and truth. It is the most fulfilling way to live and will open up dimensions that you couldn’t even imagine before

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein

Summary

  1. Epstein discusses the pros and cons of specialization vs. generalization and which environments/tasks/situations each is helpful in and why

Key Takeaways

  1. Tiger vs. Roger
    1. Begins with a comparison of Tiger Woods and Roger Federer. Tiger singularly focused and was hell-bent on breaking all records and being the best in the world whereas Roger played every sport and his highest aspiration in tennis was to some day, maybe, playing Wimbledon.  
    2. There has been increasing evidence that a broader range of experiences and sports which delays specializing in any one field or sport actually improves performance.  It takes time and delays initial success but developing a broader range of expertise makes you better off in the long run.
    3. The most effective learning is in fact slow and seems inefficient but it helps you make connections and deeply ingrain the lessons. 
    4. The danger with becoming too specialized is that you become a man with a hammer where everything looks like a nail. Rather, all you need to do is stand up and look at the field right next to you to find your solution 
    5. The challenge is maintaining an interdisciplinary mindset breath and range in a world that demands and rewards high specialization. However, in our ever increasingly complex and fast-moving world, there is an increased need for people with “range” – those who are multidisciplinary and can see problems and solutions from many different angles 
  2. Kind vs. Unkind Environments
    1. Early specialization is effective in what is called kind environments – those in which feedback loops are quick or instantaneous, the results are quite binary, and it is easy to pick up on patterns. Golf or chess are two examples of kind environments
    2. Unkind environments represent most of the world – the rules are unclear, feedback is slow or nonexistent, and it is hard to find the connections or patterns. In these domains, a broad range of experiences help with making connections and improving your pattern recognition 
  3. Flow & Deep learning
    1. A desirable difficulty is a scenario in which you don’t feel confident that you’re learning anything but you actually are interweaving different scenarios and options. It’s more effective than studying in blocks. You may not feel as confident, but when it comes to show time, you’ll be more prepared.  
    2. Deep learning is difficult and takes time and often very frustrating but it is the most effective form of learning. We should focus on these interwoven skills which are flexible and serve as scaffolding for later knowledge and skills.  
    3. The most complex skills take time and it is not easy to see or judge your rate of improvement or learning 
    4. The best problem solvers first spend time trying to figure out what type of problem they are even looking to solve and only then develop the strategy and tactics to solve it 
    5. Transfer is a mode of broad thinking which allows you to take the skills and knowledge you already have and efficiently and effectively apply it to new scenarios. This type of skill and knowledge takes a long time to build but it compounds on itself as it allows you to progress in many more domains.  Johannes Kepler was a master at this since there was no previous knowledge for him to build off of so he used analogies from far-flung domains in order to think through the forces acting on the planets and why they seem to move and act the way they do. He used the ideas of spirits, force, motion, magnetism, attraction, movement, light, smells, and more in order to finally arrive at his final conclusion. This reasoning by analogy to make the new familiar or the familiar new by combining it and thinking about it in a new light. It allows us to think through things we’ve never experienced before or see things which are invisible.  In today’s increasingly complex and fast-moving world, thinking by analogy is increasingly important as we are facing more novel situations than we ever have.
    6. Match quality – the match between what you do and your talents and proclivities. Switching is difficult and a short term sacrifice but over time it is the best route as you improve your match quality. Switchers are winners and too much grit is harmful in this way if you stay too long in an area which doesn’t suit you. It is amazing how often people who excel don’t have long-term plans but instead take each opportunity to learn about themselves, grow, add value, and make the most of each opportunity as it comes. They switch often and over time this increases their match quality and gets them in a position to learn a lot quickly and excel. Rather than a grand plan find little experiments that you can test and iterate and learn from rapidly. This is how people learn from practice rather than theory and is far more effective than trying to think your way into who you think you are – do and then think. Don’t promise or plan anything for the future. instead, live in the moment and make the most of the opportunities given you 
  4. Lateral Thinking With Withered Technology
    1. Shigeru Miyamoto, the brains behind Nintendo’s smash hits, used an idea called “lateral thinking with withered technology.” He combined cheap, simple, readily accessible, reliable technology rather than be in an arms race with having games and gadgets that only used the newest tech. This allowed them to produce things cheaply, making their goods very popular and allowed them to combine disparate technologies and ideas into something new and innovative.  He purposefully retreated from the cutting edge and found new innovative uses for old cheap ideas which had been proven and we’re familiar to people 
  5. Experts
    1. Knowledge is a double-edged sword since it could help you do some things but it can also make you blind to certain solutions. This is where outside-in thinking really helps – where you take solutions, ideas, processes, etc. from other disciplines and apply it to your own 
    2. Expertise can become dangerous when you see every problem as a nail. A broad range of knowledge across several people who can collaborate makes for the best teams and predictors. Specialized experts can be an invaluable resource but you must recognize that they can have blinders on. Use them for facts, not opinion. The best teams exhibit active open mindedness. They view their own thoughts and beliefs as hypotheses to be tested and not facts which they must use to convince others. Instead, They seek to disconfirm their beliefs and prove themselves wrong. This is not a natural mindset for people but it is far more effective. Science curious rather than science knowledge. Not what you think but how you think
    3. Hedgehogs see things linearly and causally relative to the field in which they are experts in but foxes see the world for what it is – complex and messy and interwoven. Being a fox isn’t as satisfying, doesn’t make headlines, causes for much doubt, but it is more correct
    4. The most effective leaders and thinkers are paradoxical. They acknowledge the complexity of the situation and how little they know simply doing the best that they can as new information becomes available and dropping tools that are no longer helpful rather than sticking to something simply because they are comfortable or familiar with it. “The old man knows the rules the wise man knows the exceptions,” and you have to know when you’re dealing with an exception 
    5. The best teams have porous boundaries so that people with different skills can easily communicate, learn from one another, and break their own ideas.  Make sure to schedule in free time in order to let people’s imaginations run free. Give them time to pursue their own interests, even if the immediate benefit isn’t clear 

What I got out of it

  1. “Kind” vs. “Unkind” environments has a huge impact on how you approach a field. Most of the world is “unkind” where feedback loops are slow (or nonexistent), learning is tedious and unclear, and pattern recognition is very difficult. Since most of the world operates in this fashion, it makes sense to have “range” – to be a broad based, multi-disciplinary thinker. Look to find ways to get out of your own bubble – read, do things, meet with people who you normally wouldn’t overlap with. This process is slower and the benefits aren’t immediately clear, but don’t let this deter you. It is far more effective in the long run.

Working by Robert Caro

Summary

  1. Caro recounts his writing and research process and also gives some additional background on his excellent biographies on Lyndon B. Johnson and Robert Moses. What Caro ultimately set out to do was explain how things really happened, shedding truth into political power, how it is amassed, and how it can be used
  2. I recommend listening to this book on Audible since you get to hear Caro’s unique voice telling his own story. Super captivating

Key Takeaways

  1. Caro’s Writing Process
    1. Caro never discusses his work before he publishes or else he finds that he gets bored with it and loses his voice
    2. Caro never set out to write biographies of great men – he wanted to illuminate the times they lived in and the political power that impacts everyone and everything
    3. He always loved figuring out how things worked and explaining them
    4. Caro does all his research before he starts writing. He then writes by hand and then uses a typewriter to type it. He triple spaces though so he has enough room to make edits and at the end, often there are no typed words left.
    5. He starts each day re-reading what he wrote he day before 
    6. Some vital interview questions are “What did you see?” and “What did you hear?” He asked this question so often that people would get angry with him but eventually this helped him get a feel for their experience 
    7. Imagery is important, rhythm is important, word choice is important. You have to make the reader see and feel
    8. You begin researching first by reading the big books, then the big newspapers/magazines/articles, and then the small local newspapers and articles 
    9. He would always try to help the reader see what he was figuring out. For example, he heard that Johnson was the hardest working president of all time but in order to get that across to the reader, he figured out that the chauffeur spent the most time with him. It took months to track him down but eventually he did and this helped Caro get the details he needed – how long LBJ worked, what he did on the trips, who he talked to, what he did, etc. This helped the reader see and feel how hard Johnson worked 
    10. Caro says that he cannot start writing a book until he has thought it through and can see the whole thing in his mind at one time.  He turns the whole book into 1, 2, or 3 paragraphs and this can take weeks. That is the outline he uses to build the book out of. He then does an outline for each chapter, basically the message he wants to get across without any supporting evidence. He says this is a very nasty time and that he’s in a really bad mood in this process. When you distill down a book like this, it becomes a whole lot easier 
    11. He never knows when the writing is going well. He’s learned that it’s very dangerous to get confident
    12. He sets a 3 page quota per day. He doesn’t always hit it but he says that if you don’t have a quota that you’re just fooling yourself 
  2. Background
    1. Caro was hired as a joke at Newsday because the boss didn’t want to hire kids from fancy private schools (Caro went to Princeton). However, one day Caro got a lead about how some free land in New York would be used and did such a great job that his boss Alan Hathaway told him, “never assume anything and turn every page, every goddamn page”
    2. He learned that when you need some information you do whatever it takes to get it
  3. Robert Moses
    1. Robert started working on The Power Broker about Robert Moses when he was about 29. Money was really tight for about four years after that.
    2. He became intrigued by Moses when he was working on a paper about a new bridge that didn’t make any sense yet it was being built because Moses wanted it to. Moses had convinced the rest of the New York State government that it should be done this so amazed/disturbed/impressed Caro that he chose to spend his career writing about political power
    3. Goes deeply into his time and research on Moses. He spent over 5 years writing the book, speaking to everyone who was willing, reading everything available, and painting a true picture of Moses and time in office
  4. LBJ
    1. The Browns were key contributors to Lyndon Johnson and Caro needed them in order to make his book. The older Brown brother had died and the younger one was putting up monument in his honor. They were unwilling to give interviews but after Caro noticed all the monuments, he told the surviving Brown brother that nobody would ever remember his brother unless he talked to him about Lyndon Johnson and their involvement. This opened up the doors and gave Caro all the information he ever needed
      1. Talk about understanding human nature and incentives!
    2. Caro moved down to Texas Hill country for three years in order to show the residents there that he was serious. This helped open them up and gave him the details and context for Lyndon Johnson‘s youth that he never would’ve gotten otherwise
    3. Believes there is no truth only facts and the more facts you get the closer you can get to this ideal of truth
    4. LBJ was shaped by the Texas Hill country, the hard lifestyle, and by his father’s bankruptcy. The father overpaid for land, lost it all, and this sense of humiliation and insecurity really shaped him
    5. One of LBJ’s most vital skills was vote counting, knowing how the Senate would vote. He was willing to see reality as it was, not being overly optimistic 

What I got out of it

  1. Amazing insight into one of the best biographers of all time – his research and writing process and just how dedicated he is towards getting towards the truth. Turn every page, every god damn page!